Florida City Promotes Jesus as a Way to Help Prisoners Re-Enter Society

In a photo essay for the New York Times, Fred R. Conrad gives us a glimpse into the city of Gadsden, Florida, where poverty, dropout, and crime rates are high and the wall between church and state is so low that it no longer exists:

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One of Sheriff [Morris A.] Young’s first decisions was to hire Jimmy Salters, a chaplain, full time, to help create a faith-based reintegration program in the Gadsden County Jail. “I teach, preach and pray,” Mr. Salter said about his work with inmates. “And when they are ready to confess their sins before God, I baptize them.” He has baptized nearly 400 inmates.

Sheriff Young also involved the larger church community in the program. “We cannot incarcerate our way out of crime,” he told me. “When all else fails, you sometimes have to appeal to the spiritual side of offenders.” Many local churches now send their members to the jail to teach Scripture and life skills, and other churches try to find jobs and housing for former inmates and others in need.

The Center For Inquiry recently lost a lawsuit against groups like this that proselytize while helping former prisoners, all on the taxpayers’ dime.

Critics may say atheists have no alternative to the religious reintegration programs in this instance, but the question ought to be much broader than that: Why is promoting faith-based fiction so essential to helping these former inmates? Why fill their heads with nonsense as a pathway to freedom? Why is the government promoting Christianity over every other religion? What evidence is there that a similar secular program couldn’t produce the same results?

This program may be helping the former prisoners, but there’s no reason taxpayers should be on the hook for what amounts to Christian proselytizing.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Stephen for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.